Re: Origins: reply to George Murphy

Glenn Morton (
Sun, 08 Sep 1996 17:13:53

Hi George,

I am going to let you have the last word on this thread. I will respond to
this one but we have probably covered everything sufficiently. I have enjoyed
our "duel".

You wrote:

>Glenn Morton wrote:
>> details. So my rejection of bringing the poetic parts of the scripture into
>> this discussion is based entirely upon their track record on factual data.
>> Psalm 17:8 says "hide me in the shadow of your wings". Is God a chicken?
> No? Is the psalmist therefore in error?

Factually yes, the psalmist is wrong. God has NO actual wings. As a metaphor
it is OK but that is not objective truth. I think this is why I felt no pangs
about leaving my graduate studies in philosophy. Unless there is a way for
two people to objectively agree on a given fact, there is no way to determine
truth. With science, you and I can look at a rock and agree that it is 60%
quartz, 40% feldspar. That it has burrows in it and was found in such and
such a geologic formation. We can agree on the species of fossil found in the
rock by comparing the fossils with previously published examples.

With systems lacking such a check and balance one must assume that one's
assumptions are correct rather than have verification from prediction that the
assumptions are valid. If I assume that the law of gravity is an inverse
cubed law, that would lead to a prediction that the moon is spiraling into the
earth. Since we don't see that, we know that such an assumption is erroneous.

But if I assume that God has wings, how do I verify that? When the psalmist
asks God to hide him "in the shadow of your wings", there are two
interpretations. One, the psalmist might be using a metaphor referring to
God's comfort. Second, one could assume that this is an extraordinary psalm
which got into the Bible by mistake. It might have been written by a guy who
worshipped the Thunder Bird and is wanting that actual bird-god to hide him.
There is no actual objective way to prove that this is not included by
mistake. All our reasonable assumptions that this is a metaphor may be wrong
and can not be objectively defended.

> Of course not all poetry conveys truth. But in order to find
>out, one has to be willing to enter into the poetry. As the German puts
> Wer den Dichter will verstehen
> Muss in Dichters Lande gehen" -
>"Whoever wants to understand the poet must go into the poet's country."
>This is part of the reason Jesus' parables function as they do. Some,
>even though they "don't get it", will stick around and listen again.
>Others won't.

I agree with that German saying. Don't every call someone an "old turtle" in
China, you will give great offense.

However, while poems can convey truth, the poet is not confined to telling
truth which as I see it, makes the poet transmit SUBJECTIVE truth. Artistic
license is permission to distort the facts. There is a set of facts which are
objective facts regardless of whether or not the poet transmits those facts.

Now, as to Genesis 6-9, I do not find the use of metaphor more powerful than
the use of idiom. "The windows of heaven were opened" is not any more
metaphoric than saying "Its raining cats and dogs", or "This is a real

> In fact, if you get rid of all poetic language, in the broadest
>sense, in the Bible, you don't have much left. Metaphor etc. is
>pervasive - in science as well, I might add.

Generally speaking I have not found geophysics to be very metaphorical. I
would be curious in what sense the propagation of sound through rocks can be
metaphorical? In physics, while pictures and metaphors are used to understand
the mathematics involved, the actual math is not metaphorical at all. One
never sees in physics statements like, "An alpha particle is hidden in an
atomic nucleus as bird is hidden under his mother's wing".

>> The only way I can figure out how to decide who created the world,is by who
>>told the true account of the creation. And I do believe it was Jehovah.Ijust
>>don't believe any of the Genesis interpretations I have seen published.I had
>>to come up with a new one or conclude that Jehovah didn't have a thing to do
>> with creation.
> For a start, Gen.1:1 is a theological statement. The world
>depends entirely, and always has so depended, on God alone. When
>considered in connection with a possible temporal origin of the universe
>(as I think is appropriate), the world is to be understood as having
>been made not IN time but WITH time (Augustine). Thus while Gen.1:1
>refers to a beginning of cosmic history, it is not a beginning IN

My understanding of General Relativity and Augustine is that they both agree
that time was created with space(universe). As such, since history depends
exclusively upon time, I would not feel comfortable with your last statement
that Genesis 1:1 is not a beginning in history. History began then. Whatever
higher plane God exists on is above time.

> Psalm 104 is another of the great biblical passages on creation.
>Of course it is manifestly poetic. Does that mean it's "less true" than
>Genesis 1? If so, is Psalm 104 "false"?

If it is not understood in the manner that we understand all poems, then it is
false. I would agree with you probably on the mis-use of the psalms to
support geocentrism. This is another reason I don't like to use psalms/poems
as scientific or historical statements about the world.

The problem I have with your original position, is that you seem to want to
relegate Gensis 6-9 to the same status I would relegate the psalms, yet I
don't find similar literary patterns in Genesis 6-9 as I find in Psalms. In
fact it sounds much like the account of the parting of the Red Sea.

You have the last word.


Foundation,Fall and Flood